Sunday, February 10, 2008


How should we prioritise government spending?

The state government here in Western Australia seems to have no real pattern to how it allocates major spending on either infrastructure or services.

That's not so say money is misspent, only that there is no rationale provided for some projects are they relate to others.

Naturally, the political party/s that hold government get to decide the main policy on how and where money will be used, but nationally, Australians seem to place a strange priority on how, when and where our taxes are spent.

We will applaud a decision to build a $1 Billion sports stadium - yet only the week before the media and public may have been crying their dismay at an under spent service area.

Working in the area that I do, I often see unmet demand for services. This is a problem for the individuals directly involved but it is also a problem more broadly because not providing the services required directly impacts on productivity and engagement with the community.

At the same time, the government is funding projects, that some would see as essential, but others would see as further down the line in terms of priority.

Sports stadiums for example. How do you weigh the benefits of a new sports stadium against providing accommodation and personal care support for a sportsman who is now a tetraplegic?

More to the point - how about ensuring that all West Australians with a disability can actually go to the football first (if they want to) before we build another sports stadium.

For many West Australians the stadium comes a long way down their list of priorities - they'd like to be able to be helped into bed at a time of their choosing, rather than wait for 5 hours while a lone carer travels between homes getting people into their beds.

They'd like a hot meal every day - instead on one or two days a week.

They'd love to be able to go out once in a while, but their pressure sores haven't been dressed, they have infections as a result and the priority is to have these cleaned and dressed.

I know capital spending is different to recurrent service funding but we are, after all, talking about ONE BILLION DOLLARS. We seem to forget just how much money that really is - ONE THOUSAND MILLION DOLLARS.

3.5% of that amount would provide enough money to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The interest on $1 Billion alone would cover what is needed twice over. And yet, the stadium will get built while West Australians, who, through no fault of their own, suffer in pain - often alone and they'll still not have the opportunity to get to see any event staged at the $1 Billion 'success' for the government.

I'm sure it will be accessible - it may even have a terrific viewing area for wheelchair users that is not shoved off to some dark corner of the ground - but what use are the ramps and the lifts, the special parking and the toilets if the people who would love to use those facilities are not even having their basic daily needs met?

I'd love to see governments come to elections with a 'Strategic Spending Plan' that shows how they will spend government money and why - and prioritises spending because I think that is the best indicator of the true influences on that government.

If they are going to build a massive infrastructure plant that benefits only one group or organisation and this is at the top of the list, then you can clearly see the level of influence that group or organisation has - it may not be fair, but at least it is transparent.

I can however, imagine the horror of any government being asked up front where they saw that money was most needed - imagine how many voters you could put offside in just one list!

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